COVID-19 cancellations (Part 2)

This item appears on page 14 of the October 2020 issue.
The Philippine tarsier is the world's third-smallest (and, in my opinion, cutest) primate. I saw this one at the Philippine Tarsier Sanctuary on the island of Bohol in the Philippines in January 2018. Photo by Esther Perica

The closing of borders worldwide due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic led to the canceling and postponing of countless travel plans. ITN thought it would be interesting to compare how various tour operators, airlines, cruise lines, hotels, etc., handled the disruptions and travelers’ bookings, so we asked ITN subscribers to write in about their experiences. Many answered the call, and we printed several in last month’s issue, with more to come in upcoming issues.

As will be seen, not only do companies have contrasting policies, but travelers have different approaches and philosophies, let alone ways of planning and booking trips.

Along with my sister and her grandson (his first cruise), I was scheduled to depart on a 7-day cruise with Holland America Line (Seattle, WA; 877/932-4259,, round trip out of San Diego and visiting Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlan and Puerto Vallarta, on Saturday, March 14.

I got an email that morning telling me that the cruise was canceled. Luckily, the cruise was from my home port, so I had not flown somewhere to catch it, but my bags were packed and in the truck ready to depart.

Holland America offered me a 100% refund plus a 100% credit on a future cruise. That suits me fine, and I booked a cruise with the same itinerary for next spring. The original ship was the Veendam, but the ship next year will be the larger Koningsdam.

DL Shearer
Escondido, CA



I was one of the voluntary tour leaders of a group of 20 senior citizens, all of whom belong to the Quest Lifelong Learning Community in New York City, scheduled to take a tour to Puglia, Italy, that had been booked with Celtic Tours (Albany, NY; 800/833-4373,

We booked the May 28-June 6, 2020, trip in September 2019. The total price of the land portion of the trip was $2,691 per person plus an additional $650 to $950 each for single travelers.

Before making our final payments, we each received and signed a formal contract from Celtic Tours that listed their cancellation penalties. The penalty would be $150 per person for canceling from 124 to 65 days before departure or $500 per person for canceling from 64 to 31 days before departure, with no refund if cancellation was within 30 days of departure. This was in addition to any cancellation penalties imposed by accommodations in Italy.

On Feb. 18, 2020, Celtic notified us via email that “… the Italy ground handler has a 30% nonrefundable deposit of the tour cost at 90 days prior to departure.” The hotels that we paid for were Hotel delle Palme (Via di Leuca, 90, Lecce; and iH Hotels Bari Oriente (Corso Cavour, 32, Bari;

As Italy started to experience the COVID-19 pandemic and was locked down, we realized it might not be safe to travel. In fact, the US Centers for Disease Control issued a Level 3 warning against nonessential travel to Italy.

During this time, I spoke to and emailed Celtic Tours several times. Celtic confirmed that, as far as they were concerned, the trip was still going forward, based on what they were hearing from their ground tour operator and the hotels in Bari and Lecce. Considering that we were a group of senior citizens, many of us became concerned, as Italy was quickly becoming the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak in Europe.

On March 4, Celtic Tours’ ground operator in Puglia advised the company that if we wanted to move the trip to 2021, the hotels would allow the deposits to be moved to the new dates.

On March 10, Celtic Tours emailed, “Italy is in lockdown until April 3, 2020, and [the ground handler in Italy] recommended we wait until April 6 to make our final decision.” Celtic also said that they would waive their own cancellation fees.

On March 12, our group notified Celtic Tours in writing that we wanted to cancel the trip. Each person received a letter from Celtic confirming our cancellation and saying that the money would be refunded back to our credit cards. However, a penalty imposed by the ground operator and/or hotels in Italy of $300 per person for each couple or $400 per single traveler would not be refunded.

On May 11, I wrote to Hotel delle Palme and iH Hotels Bari Oriente. I received a response from the Bari Oriente, whose representative wrote, “We are sincerely sorry to hear about your need to cancel your reservation, due to the COVID-19 emergency. In accordance with the provisions of article 88 of law-decree no. 18/2020 and article 28 of law-decree no. 9/2020, we will send you a voucher of the same amount of your reservation, which you can use within one year from the date of issue….”

Since we are a group of seniors, some of whom have underlying medical conditions, and given the information provided by the medical professionals about COVID-19, we are not in a position to plan a vacation and accept vouchers for the future. We would have preferred a refund of the remaining money.

Karen Levin
New York, NY



Patti Kelly (right) with (from left) daughter-in-law Diana Gottfried and grandsons John Carlson (16), Ben Carlson (14) and Sam Carlson (17) at the Golden Pavilion in Kyoto, Japan, in July 2019.

My family was among the many with a Mediterranean cruise canceled due to COVID-19. Our embarkation was scheduled for July 18, 2020, from the port of Athens, Greece, with Princess Cruises (Santa Clarita, CA; 800/774-6237, We were a group of seven, with three more planning to join us. I booked our cruise through Expedia Cruises (

The cruise was canceled a couple of months ahead of our payment deadline, and I had paid $10,000 toward the final $35,000. It took Princess Cruises a full three months from cancellation before a full refund showed up on my credit card.

Through Expedia Cruises, I was perfectly happy to roll our cruise reservations with Princess to next year using deposits I had banked while on a previous cruise. Princess would have refunded the deposits too, but I am still hopeful we may be allowed to travel next year.

• For the air tickets to Europe for my group of seven, all of whom would travel the same day on American Airlines, I had used my frequent-flyer miles (30,000 miles plus $6 per person).

American was very easy to deal with on the cancellation. They refunded all of my points and the tax fees.

• To book our return flights, I had gone online into my Princess Cruises account and made reservations through the Princess EZair program, which does not accept frequent-flyer miles but which contracts with many airlines for low fares. Returning from Rome, two of us were set to fly to Denver on United Airlines, with the other five flying to San Francisco on Lufthansa, and I was going to pay about $500 per person for the one-way flights.

Patti Kelly in the community of Xlendi on the island of Gozo in Malta (September 2019). Photo by her niece Tabitha

While I had reserved all our return flights, you do not pay Princess EZair until final payment is due the cruise line. I had not made final payment to Princess EZair. Princess Cruises took care of canceling our Princess EZair reservations.

• We had planned to fly into Athens five days ahead of the sailing, so I had rented a large apartment through Vrbo ( The apartment owner was easy to deal with in refunding her fees. Vrbo refunded their fees as well.

• To do on our own, I had scheduled and paid for two tours through ItalyTours.EU (phone +39 091 619 3355, the “Best of Pisa & Lucca” and a tour of villages in France’s Luberon region. After an exchange of emails, all of the funds were returned to my charge card.

• A third tour that I had booked was with Barcelona Day Tours (Rambla de Catalunya, 15 Principal, 08007 Barcelona, Spain; phone +34 931 80 70 09,, and from them I got everything back except for some front-of-the-line tickets to Park Güell in Barcelona.

In late August, Barcelona Day Tours wrote that they had gotten the money back from Park Güell, but because it had been longer than four months, they couldn’t credit my charge card. They asked if I had a PayPal account. I did, and I was refunded in a few days through PayPal. It was 100, as I had paid for tickets for the group.

• We had an all-day tour of Rome lined up through Rome Transfer (, which seemed to have giant vans that could carry all of us and could have allowed us to move our luggage. I didn’t pay for that tour in advance, though, so a simple email canceled that commitment.

A fiesta on Gozo in Malta (September 2019). Photo by Patti Kelly

• My last issue has been with the Sheraton Parco de’ Medici Rome Hotel (Viale Salvatore Rebecchini, 145, Rome; phone +39 390 665 288,, where we had reserved and paid for four rooms. As of July 20, this hotel had not returned our funds, saying Italy had passed a law stating that no hotel is required to return funds because of the virus.* I opened a claim with my credit card company, American Express.

American Express temporarily credited back my charge card but said that, if their investigation rules in favor of the hotel, they will rebill my account.

Overall, having exercised a bit of patience, I’m delighted with how well this has gone. We’re hoping to put this trip together again next summer, but getting everyone in the family on board even for the July 2020 cruise was a miracle.

I believe that the greatest gift I can leave to my four grandkids is an appreciation of the world and the many different cultures. When I die, there will be no money left, just lots of photos and memories. I do so love to travel with the gang and delight in sharing with them.

Patti Kelly
Steamboat Springs, CO

*In answer to a letter titled “Help! I’m Owed a Refund, But the Hotel Won’t Budge,” in the “Tripped Up” column of the New York Times (July 13, 2020), Sarah Firshein wrote, “The new law gave hotel owners in Italy the option to make the call on whether to issue refunds or vouchers.”



Sadly, my husband, Tom, and I were caught in the COVID-19 travel cancellations. Looking forward to a family cruise around the British Isles, June 21-July 3, 2020, we had reserved two cabins for ourselves, our daughter and our two adult grandchildren on the Regal Princess of Princess Cruises. We booked our flights through the Princess EZair program.

We made our initial deposit on March 4, 2019, and a final payment on Feb. 14, 2020. The total cost for all five of us was $16,074, including gratuities and WiFi.

On April 14, Princess Cruises notified us that our cruise would not be taking place. Initially, we were to get our money back within 30 days, but that was extended to 60 days, then 90. However, after 30 days of waiting, we disputed the charges on our credit card. We received our refund from Princess on June 23.

• For a minivan transfer from Heathrow airport to our motel in Southampton and a return to the airport after the cruise, we had made reservations with Silver Fleet Transfers Limited (“Fairlight,” Stortford Rd., Hatfield Heath, Herts., England, CM22 7DL, U.K.; phone +44 7900 245603,, paying £325 (near $431) in each direction. We canceled that reservation on April 10.

Silver Fleet refunded us in two payments (one in late April, the other in early June), explaining that that would help them preserve capital. We found this company to be quite honest and forthcoming; we would use them in the future.

• For £437.50, we had booked a tour to the Scottish Highlands with WOW Scotland (Birkenshaw, Tomatin, Inverness, Scotland, IV13 7XY, U.K.; phone +44 1808 568262,, We received a refund of $397.50, which was what we had paid minus the non-refundable upgrade to front seats on the tour.

• We also reserved a tour for July 2 to the Normandy beaches from Le Havre, France, paying 980 (now near $1,102). We canceled on April 10, and our credit card was credited on April 15 for $1,076.

• On Sept. 22, 2019, for £195 we had booked an independent tour to the Giant’s Causeway and the city of Belfast for June 26 with IrishTour (10 Great Victoria St., Belfast, Northern Ireland, BT2 7BA, U.K.;

We requested a refund on April 10 and were offered a voucher for a future tour. We refused that offer and again requested a refund.

On April 20 we received a notice that their office was closed but that our refund would be sent once the office opened. On May 8, we were notified that our refund had been processed and we should expect it in five to seven days. On May 20, when we still had not received it, we filed a dispute with our credit card company. The refund came through on June 15.

We had intended to take hop-on, hop-off bus tours at our other stops but hadn’t paid for those in advance. And we had reserved rooms at a Premier Inn near the cruise terminal but had not yet paid for them, so they were easily canceled.

While we were quite happy with the final outcome regarding our refunds, we have decided to make some changes in how we will pay for travel from now on. First, we will continue to reserve far in advance of any tour or cruise dates, as I had polio as a child and now use a wheelchair. I also need to reserve accessible accommodations, which are limited. What we will NOT do is pay in advance of the final payment date, if possible. If we had waited to pay, we would have had far less money to recoup.

Finally, I will think very hard about whether to have a bundle of services from one provider. While Princess EZair offered a good price for round-trip tickets from Charlotte to London on American Airlines, all of our money for the cruise and flights was coming back from one source. At one point, we were looking into what would happen if the cruise line declared bankruptcy.

Kathryn Tisdale
Hickory, NC



To mark our 50th wedding anniversary, my wife, Sandra, and I planned to take a special cruise, “Fiji to Bali,” April 11-28, 2020, with Paul Gauguin Cruises (800/848-6172,, visiting six island nations. This was booked through Adventure Life (Missoula, MT; 800/344-6118, Paul Gauguin only schedules this cruise every two to three years.

It was the most expensive cruise we had ever booked. We had saved up for some time because Sandra always wanted to sail on the m/s Paul Gauguin. The cost of $22,620 was all inclusive of airfare, port fees and gratuities, but shore excursions would cost extra. We purchased trip insurance with Travelex through Adventure Life.

We are in our mid-70s and in very good health and were not the least concerned about the early February and March COVID-19 reports, as, at that time, both the region to be visited and the Paul Gauguin itself had reported no cases of the virus. We were assured the cruise was to go on as scheduled by the cruise line and by Adventure Life right up to March 14, when we received a cancellation email from Paul Gauguin Cruises.

We were, of course, disappointed, but we assumed they would offer a full refund, since they were unilaterally canceling the cruise themselves. But that was not to be, as Paul Gauguin Cruises and its parent company, Compagnie du Ponant, refused to offer any level of refund, offering only a future cruise credit valid for 24 months.

Unfortunately, the particular 17-day Paul Gauguin cruise that we had booked will not be offered again for the next two to three years, which we confirmed in a telephone call with the cruise line.

We also checked with Travelex and learned that our travel insurance would not cover a refund of the trip costs, as it was the cruise line that canceled the trip, not us. Our policy would reimburse us only if we canceled due to covered things such as a medical emergency, illness, accident, etc.

Though alternative Paul Gauguin cruises were for places we had already been, we reluctantly accepted the future cruise credit with Compagnie du Ponant in hopes of recovering any portion of our cruise cost at all. Our 12-day replacement cruise (for which international flights will cost extra, though shore excursions are included) is one-third shorter than the original cruise, and, of the places originally to be visited, it only goes to Indonesia, ending in Darwin, Australia. It does not give us the cultural diversity we were hoping for.

However, the dates of this cruise, Nov. 23-Dec. 4, 2020, are much closer to our 50th anniversary on Dec. 19. (We planned to take the original cruise well before our actual anniversary in order to catch it at all, as the cruise is offered so rarely.)

John Hicks
Tehachapi, CA



I booked a cruise from Dakar, Senegal, to Lisbon, Portugal, with Compagnie du Ponant (888/400-1082, The ship L’Austral was scheduled to embark April 1, 2020.

On March 24, the company informed me the cruise had been canceled, and they offered 120% of my payment in credit toward any of their cruises within 18 months of the original embarkation date.

On March 29, I requested a refund instead, but Ponant refused the next day. I replied to Ponant that same day, quoting the section of their Terms & Conditions that provides for a refund in the case of their canceling a cruise, but I received no reply. On April 14, I telephoned them and again was turned down for a refund.

That same day, I turned to my credit-card issuer (Chase Bank) to dispute the charge of the final payment of 75% of the cruise cost. (The 25% deposit had been paid in June 2019, and you cannot dispute a charge after 90 days from the date of purchase.) An automated response told me to expect a reply after 35 days.

On May 30, the credit card company ruled in my favor, and I asked them by telephone to deposit my credit balance in my bank. The funds were in my account within three days.

I have since learned that a new French ordinance, 2020-315, passed on 25 March 2020, allows travel suppliers based in France to offer travelers 18-month vouchers in lieu of refunds.

Peter Calingaert
Chapel Hill, NC

ITN emailed Compagnie du Ponant a copy of the above two letters but received no response.



When Andrea Cattapan, our guide on Overseas Adventure Travel’s “Northern Italy: The Alps, Dolomites & Lombardy” tour, took time for a photo, we knew this was a very special place in the Dolomites. Photo by Esther Perica

Among trips of mine canceled due to COVID-19, I had the following experiences.

• I was scheduled for the expedition-style cruise “Palau, the Philippines & Taiwan” with Zegrahm Expeditions(Seattle, WA; 844/985-2416,, March 1-15, 2020. It was canceled one week before departure, and I received a full refund of $14,462.

• I had booked a post-trip tour, the “5-Day Round Taiwan Island Excursion,” with Edison Travel Service Company (Taipei, Taiwan; phone +886 2 2563 5313, [in Chinese only]). (On the website, I had found the email address I wrote to that and received an answer written in very good English. I always dealt with the same agent, who was very thorough in giving me information.)

The tour was canceled, and I was emailed copies of the refund charge slips. I received a full refund of $1,061, but it took about a month for the credit to appear in my credit card account.

• I had booked the “Archaeology & Culture in the Valley of Oaxaca” tour, July 12-17, 2020, with Maya Exploration Center (Austin, TX; 512/350-3321, They offered to reschedule to 2021 or provide a full refund. I chose to be refunded, as their 2021 dates conflicted with another trip. I received a check in the mail in a few days with a full refund.

In a small village on the island of Tanna in Vanuatu, people live in traditional ways (June 2019). Photo by Esther Perica

• After the Oberammergau Passion Play was canceled, I canceled my “German Vista with Oberammergau” tour with Globus (Littleton, CO; 866/755-8581,, Sept. 10-17, 2020. I received a refund for the tour, but, even though the passion play was canceled, Globus charged me a $250 cancellation fee, as I did not move my reservation over to 2022.

• For a custom trip to Arunachal Pradesh state in northeastern India, Jan. 25-Feb. 25, 2021, with East India Travel Co. (House #1, 1st Floor, Jilika Path, Panjabari, Guwahati 781 037, Assam, India; phone +91 9864732022,, I had sent the company owner, Sanjay Thakar, a deposit of $1,350 in October 2019 for the land portion and another $1,557 in February 2020 for a 7-night Ganges cruise.

Wanting only to reschedule my trip to 2022 (I did not ask for a refund), I made sure I reached Sanjay before any hotel, car or guide bookings were made in July. There was no cost to reschedule.

I have known Sanjay since 2005 when he served as an escort for another tour company. I was impressed with his professionalism and attention to detail. He started his own company in 2010.

• After Zegrahm canceled their cruise, I canceled my flights on United Airlines, which refunded two airfares to me. One ticket (Chicago-Palau) was fully refundable. The other (Taiwan-Chicago) had been purchased with miles, which were redeposited less a $125 fee.

In May I applied for a refund of the $125 on United’s website, noting that their own website says they’re waiving redeposit fees, but as of Aug. 28 the refund had not appeared in my credit card account.

• Regarding my July round-trip Chicago-Oaxaca flight, I called American Airlines to inquire about a refund, but they only offered to provide a voucher, so I waited to see if they would cancel the flight, making me eligible for a full refund.

Eventually, they canceled one leg of my trip, which was enough for me to apply. They notified me by email that the refund had been issued to my credit card.

• For a stay in Koror, Palau, before the Zegrahm Expeditions trip, I had booked five nights at the Palau Central Hotel (1724 Main St., Koror; phone +680 488 4500, through Because of the rate I selected, the cost of $1,092 was non-refundable.

While a docent at the National Museum of Vanuatu created a sand drawing (called <i>sandroing</i> in Bislama) illustrating a folk tale, local boys were entranced — Port Vila, Vanuatu (June 2019). Photo by Esther Perica

I had established a bit of a relationship with the reservations agent at the hotel and emailed to let her know that I would be a no-show. She told me to contact and tell them she would authorize a refund. I contacted; they called the hotel, and a full refund was issued.

• For the Germany trip, I had booked the Radisson Blu Hotel Zürich Airport (800/333-3333, through United Airlines’ United Hotels (866/797-0578, at a non-refundable rate, so, at first, I lost my $166.

I recontacted them, and, maybe because I reached another agent, a refund was processed to my credit card. I’m glad I tried again!

Esther Perica